I recently saw a newspaper headline about the decision by the state of Florida to revoke Disney’s special tax status. The headline made reference to conservatives’ practice of “punishing companies for speaking on social issues.”
I take issue with this word choice. I am a conservative who disagrees with Disney’s decision to publicly take a stand against the Florida law banning explicit sex education for children under fourth grade. Similarly, I found it morally wrong that so many companies issued statements publicly praising the George Floyd protests when they broke out two years ago.
Of course, I cannot speak for all conservatives, but speaking for myself, the reason these actions were upsetting is not because companies were “speaking on social issues.” It is because companies were taking a position on something that they should not be taking a position on. It is because instead of being neutral, companies chose to be biased. It is because instead of treating everyone equally, companies chose to discriminate.
By choosing to criticize the Florida law, Disney has decided that the (supposed) right of gay people to discuss their sexuality while at work is worthy of defending. By choosing to praise the BLM movement, companies have decided that (supposed) systemic racism against black people is a serious enough problem to speak out against. “Why would someone be upset by this?” you might be wondering. There is nothing wrong with supporting LGBTQ rights or anti-racism, after all. But the problem is that LGBTQ people and people of color are not the only people who have been wronged, harmed, or treated unjustly.
How about, to give just one example, people such as myself, whose hearts have been shattered and lives ruined by the destruction of the historical statues that make our lives worth living? How about Americans of Italian descent, or Americans of Confederate ancestry, whose heritage has been almost entirely obliterated from the national consciousness thanks to the BLM movement?
By taking positions on issues of LGBTQ rights and black people’s rights, companies are saying that the rights of these groups matter, but not the rights of other groups and individuals. Companies are saying that the perspectives, experiences, and feelings of these groups matter, but not the perspectives, experiences, and feelings of others. Companies are saying that the struggles and problems faced by these groups are worthy of acknowledgement and empathy, but not the struggles and problems faced by others.
When I see a company expressing support for gay rights or for the BLM movement, while ignoring the pain inflicted by the destruction of historical figures, it hurts. It sends the message that my perspectives, my experiences, my feelings, and my pain do not matter. It sends the message that the company does not value me as a customer or as a human being.
So unless a company commits to expressing solidarity with every individual and every group that has gone through something difficult, the company should steer clear of expressing support for political causes. When a company expresses support for some causes but not others, that company is inherently expressing the belief that some causes matter while other causes do not. And that is discrimination, full stop.
Characterizing the conservative position as a desire to “punish companies for speaking on social issues” makes conservatives sound as if they are pro-censorship and anti-free-speech. It makes conservatives sound as if they want to silence those who disagree with them.
This is a deliberate mischaracterization of the conservative position, designed to make the conservative position appear illogical, hypocritical, and illegitimate.
I do not want companies to be silent rather than speaking out. I want companies to be neutral, rather than biased. I want companies to treat everyone equally, rather than demonstrating favoritism. I want companies to be inclusive, rather than discriminating against unpopular minorities who happen not to be politically favored.
I do not believe that companies should be punished for “speaking on social issues.” I believe that companies should be punished for being biased and discriminatory.